Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Master of the Malarkey Arts

Euphemisms are such a part of life that sometimes it takes decades to even notice them, even for a professional noticer like moi.

I first read the term master of the mystic arts as a wee lad, growing up in the days of yore known as the seventies and eighties. I remember reading reprints of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee's Doctor Strange comics from the early 1960s, in which the lead character was never described as a sorcerer, magician, or wizard — but as the master of the mystic arts.

I'm so slow it's taken me till now, at the grand old age of "my prom date was an ancient Druid" to realize this is a tad euphemistic and a smidgen pretentious.

Worse, master of mystic arts sounds like the most useless academic degree in a sea of ultra-useless degrees. I can just imagine myself, a legit collector of useless degrees, complaining, "I got my MMA, and I still can't make a decent balloon animal."

Anyhoo, advanced drivel aside, you can find euphemisms anywhere — from the Ivory Tower to the underground city of mole people. I just hate to think what an underground society would call us. Maybe homo preposterous.

molecular recycling
Sometimes a euphemism meant to blow away the odor of evil only increases the stench. Check out this passage from Recycling Today:

Scott Ballard, vice president and general manager for Eastman Specialty Plastics, says the company is making chemical recycling "real for the rest of the world" with its most recent announcement. However, he prefers the term molecular recycling. "I like the term molecular recycling because it actually talks about what's being recycled. Chemical recycling is the process by which you are doing it."

Sure, I get it, chemical sounds creepy, and it isn't even accurate. But molecular recycling sounds creepy plus. Worse, molecules are scientific, and science is the devil's field of interest.

recovery agent
I learned everything I know from Star Wars, which is why I know zilch. But I do know a bounty hunter when I see one, on the silver screen or in an online article. As explained on the website of the National Council of State Legislatures:

When a defendant fails to appear in court after release on financial bail, their surety — the person guaranteeing their appearance — must pay the cash bond to the court. To avoid or mitigate financial liability, the surety can attempt to arrest and return the defendant. Sureties often work with a recovery agent, a person whose profession it is to lawfully apprehend fugitive defendants. Sureties transfer arrest authority to recovery agents by signing over to them a certified copy of the bond.

Recovery agents, also called bounty hunters and bail enforcement agents, and how they arrest fugitive defendants, are subject to regulations provided by state law.

I dunno. Would Boba Fett be as cool if he were called a recovery agent? Nope. Does Dog the Recovery Agent have a ring to it? Nope. Should I hire a recovery agent to track down my will to live? Probably.

I've always found the term agnostic a little suspect. Sure, no one knows for sure if God exists, but no one knows for sure if goblins exist either, and no one is a goblin agnostic — except my Uncle Ted, but that's another story. So some folks have proposed a hedge-betting alternative:

To be clear, I proclaim allegiance to no established religion. I am an agnostic (Latin for "I don't know") though I actually prefer the term "possibilian." I have been humbled by phenomena our science cannot explain. Perhaps because I know best the power of song, which is linked closely to worship, I have experienced a collective emboldened in a positive way, motivated to their higher selves, connected to one another across space and time by the liturgy of words and music. I believe in that.

Sorry for the cynicism, but 2020 has worn down my body and soul to the point that my higher self is living in the basement, and I haven't been emboldened in months. The possibilian sees the cosmos as half full, but I need an angry nap. Sorry.

Finally, do you have a twin flame? And it doesn't count if you look a little like The Human Torch. Read it in USA Today and weep deeply:

Some might call them soul mates, but [Megan] Fox prefers the term "twin flame."

"A twin flame is actually where a soul has ascended into a high enough level that it can be split into two different bodies at the same time," she says. "So we're actually two halves of the same soul, I think. And I said that to him [Machine Gun Kelly] almost immediately, because I felt it right away."

Mere mortals such as you, I, and my Uncle Ted shall never understand the wuthering heights to which celebrities ascend. Perhaps, if the human soul exists, there is also a higher, brighter, better-rated celebrity soul, and it's capable of such cosmic bifurcations.

Heck, maybe my twin flame will commit compassionate arson on my dreary soul. I'll pooh-pooh this term, but I'd never tsk-tsk love. I was raised to never be afraid of saying, "I love you" or "Flame on!"

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Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore." Click here to read more articles by Mark Peters.